Salem's Italian Pizza Kitchen
Back to Basics, Scratch cooking yields sophisticated comfort food at Salem’s new A Mano Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria.
Photograph by Anthony Tieuli
Chef Antonio Bettencourt loves dough. He is constantly tinkering with his pasta recipe, which he’s been making by hand for more than 15 years—tweaking subtle things to get a little closer to perfection. So when it came to turning his acclaimed Restaurant 62 into a more casual Italian eatery, he couldn’t wait to dig his hands into pizza dough. After many, many mornings spent fiddling with different flours and proportions of yeast and water, he finally found the flatbread recipe for his new Salem restaurant, A Mano Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria.
Making the dough is a two-day affair that starts late at night after dinner service—giving it time to rise slowly overnight in the walk-in refrigerator. Bettencourt rolls it out the next day and uses it for baked-to-order pizza pies. The resulting crust is delightfully crisp on the outside and pleasantly chewy on the inside (and deserving of a starring role).
Toppings—what the Italians call condimenti—are judiciously applied rather than piled on, allowing the crust’s complex flavors to come through. Try the salame pizza, crowned with large, thin slices of Tuscan cured meat seasoned with fennel and garlic. (It was inspired by a late-night snack Bettencourt and his fellow cooks would enjoy after service at Tomasso Trattoria, the acclaimed Southborough restaurant he helmed before opening Restaurant 62.)
That same careful consideration goes into every dish at A Mano, which translates to “by hand” in Italian. Bettencourt is serious about making everything from scratch—from the complimentary baskets of ciabatta or focaccia to the pasta in his tagliatelle alla bolognese.
The menu focuses on rustic Italian dishes, starting with the antipasti—a selection of both hot and cold appetizers, as is traditional. For hot appetizers, fans of Restaurant 62 will recognize the arancini, satisfyingly crunchy and creamy deep-fried balls of saffron risotto. The meatballs, a mix of beef, pork, and ricotta, are surprisingly light and soft. Balance those with a few cold appetizers—the eggplant in agrodolce is a powerfully flavorful exercise in contrasts: sweet and sour, salty and bitter, the dish combines vinegar, sugar, currants, capers, and cocoa powder in intense harmonious balance. Topped with luscious, creamy buffalo mozzarella, every bite surprises and delights. Or try the rustic roasted beets, enriched with a salty topping of pistachios and ricotta salata.
Not surprisingly, A Mano’s menu offers a broad range of pasta dishes, from garganelli topped with duck to gnocchi with wild boar, as well as vegetarian options like taglierini integrale, a whole wheat pasta topped with roasted cauliflower, golden raisins, and pine nuts. Or satisfy that mid-winter craving for poultry with “Chicken Under a Brick”—a classic Italian preparation that literally uses a brick (wrapped in foil) to press the skin side of the meat into the pan. Cooked entirely with the skin side down to preserve the juices, the meat is indulgently rich and served with a side of grilled fennel and bitter broccoli rabe.
The bar team from Restaurant 62 remains at A Mano, crafting complex cocktails while adding a new negroni menu. While it’s hard to improve on that classic mix of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, they do it with panache, offering riffs that include house-infused apple whiskey or cherry liqueur, or a festive hit of bubbles in the Sbagliato Negroni.
For dessert A Mano offers two flavors of gelato—vanilla and hazelnut—both rich and creamy and made in-house. Or try the velvety warm toffee pudding made with melted dates and topped with toffee caramel sauce and lightly sweetened whipped cream—it’s just the thing to bring warmth to a cold winter night.